Exactly 18 months after they were abducted in northeastern Afghanistan, French journalists Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier and their Afghan interpreter have been released, say Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and news reports.
On 29 December 2009, Taponier and Ghesquière were kidnapped in the village of Umar Khel, Afghanistan, along with three Afghan associates, as they were trying to report on the conflict for the French TV station France 3.
In a statement released today, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said, "The President is delighted at the liberation of our two compatriots, Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier, as well as their interpreter Reza Din."
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told Parliament that the two journalists were in good health and would be returning shortly to France.
There was no word yet on the whereabouts of Ghulam and Sattar, their local fixer and driver.
"We are greatly relieved by this news, which we have constantly awaited throughout the 547 days that the hostages spent in captivity," RSF secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. "Our recent meetings with the Afghan authorities and the French officials in charge of the case had led us to believe that they would be freed soon."
An RSF delegation visited Kabul from 20 to 25 June to assess the situation of the hostages.
Ghesquière specialised in war reporting, covering the Balkans conflict and doing investigative reports from around the world, from Cambodia to the disputed Western Sahara territory. Taponier had covered the war in Iraq and several conflicts on the African continent. He had travelled to Afghanistan regularly since 2000.
The Elysée Palace immediately notified their families, who were participating in a rally in support of the journalists in downtown Paris. The rally included an RSF display recreating the conditions in which they were being held.
According to French news reports, Ghesquière and Taponier were believed to have been captured by a local militant before being handed over to a commander linked to the Quetta Shura, an organisation made up of the Taliban's top leadership. There's no word yet of any deal or ransom payments made for the release of the journalists.
The 18-month captivity marked the longest period of detention of a French journalist in the field since the Lebanese Civil War. France's TV and radio stations have long been closing their newscasts with a tally of the days they have been held.
According to RSF, Afghanistan continues to be one of the world's most dangerous countries for media personnel, and Afghan journalists pay a high price for working with foreign media. At least 15 journalists have been kidnapped by criminal or insurgent groups in Afghanistan since 2009.